We’ve started talking about the importance of getting to know our communities better quite a bit at Bromford in recent months. I have to admit I’ve found it quite hard to use the term community assets. It doesn’t trip off the tongue as a phrase and most people just look at you rather blankly when you use it. Having said that it is the most succinct way to refer to the things or people in a community that help to make it stronger…better. But hearing Stuart Cowley speaking at a recent community building workshop and using the term with such confidence has made me determined to overcome my awkwardness!
Stuart is a rather ordinary looking bloke (no offence Stuart) who works for the not very glamorous Wigan Council. But when he speaks about how his adult social care team is transforming the way they work he absolutely comes alive.
He describes the Wigan Deal as ‘a crusade not a project’. Stuart and his colleagues are turning their practice on its head. Instead of looking for problems in need of a professional to fix, they now start conversations with their clients by asking what they love to do; what things look like on a great day; what makes them feel good.
It’s a real ‘glass half full’ approach.
His team is also encouraged to notice what’s going on in the communities they serve. They even have Community Knowledge Workers who spend their time unearthing community assets. More often than not their clients need less from their social worker than they get from making a connecting their passion with some sort of community asset.
Stuart calls what they are doing ‘Disruptive Innovation’. Once you ‘get’ the idea that there are lots of assets in any community just waiting to be noticed then you start seeing them everywhere.
There was a lovely piece in the Guardian magazine recently about corner shops. You can see the whole article here but the key take away for me was realising just what a community asset many of these little shops are.
One owner, Mo Shah in Brighton says:
..it’s a community. You meet and talk to a lot of people, and really get to know your clientele. I know them by name. I have their phone numbers in case they don’t come in. When I talk to my customers it could be about their holiday, it could be about their children. Some of them confide in you. Some see you more than they see their sons or daughters.
Viraj Patel owns a shop in Manchester, which featured in the first few series of Shameless.
Many of his customers are quite poor and a lot of his business is now done electronically through PayPoint, selling phone cards, mobile top-ups and scratch cards. He gives credit to certain customers – something he calls putting goods “on hold”. He says the majority pay him back on time. There is some theft and burglary and he accepts that the perpetrators are probably his customers, but he says:
The majority are good, honest people and I feel part of the community. If older people don’t come in as usual, I ask neighbours to look in on them.
Thinking about it it’s pretty obvious that a general store in any neighbourhood is a community asset. It’s impossible to go into the shop near my house and not bump into someone you know…hear some news about something that’s going on…or see a poster about a forthcoming event or meeting.
Once you start paying attention you’ll find yourself discovering assets all over the place.
What community assets have you noticed where you live?
The featured image is of Yusuf and Sabi Gulamali of Maks News, Bethnal Green, London and is from The Guardian. So too are the pictures of Mo Shah and Viraj Patel.